As Long As The Job Gets Done, Does Employee Engagement Matter?

By on May 7, 2013
Does Employee Engagement Matter?

You bet it does. The Gallup organization in 2012 conducted a study of the impact of high levels of employee engagement. In conducting this study, Gallup looked at almost 50,000 businesses, including 1,500,000 employees in 34 countries.

What did this study reveal about the impact of employee engagement? It showed that high levels of employee engagement impact key performance outcomes in these ways:

  • 37% lower absenteeism
  • 25% lower turnover (in low-turnover organizations)
  • 65% lower turnover (in high-turnover organizations)
  • 48% fewer safety incidents
  • 41% fewer quality incidents (defects)
  • 21% higher productivity
  • 22% higher profitability

Amazing! What a difference it makes when employees are really engaged in their work, continuously striving to be better, continuously looking for ways to eliminate waste. And equally amazing is the fact that so many businesses are not focused on doing everything they can to build higher and higher levels of employee engagement.

On the contrary, in many businesses there exists at the leadership level an active contempt for the intelligence and creativity of line workers. Of course, this contempt is almost never stated. If asked, most leaders will talk about their great respect for line workers and will say that they’d really like to hear from them on how to improve work processes. Unhappily, all too often what they do, or don’t do, doesn’t support what they say. For example, many organizations don’t provide good conduits for communication from line workers to the organization’s leadership team. Also, all too often leaders behave in ways that shut down communication from line workers.

Disengaged Line WorkerHere’s one example of what I’m talking about. About six years ago, a line worker in a plant in which I was doing consulting stopped me in their cafeteria and said, “George, I want to tell you a story. Last week, we were having a problem with some equipment in my area and the plant manager came out with some recommendations about how to solve the problem. After listening to him, I realized that there were some problems with his solution and mentioned them to him. He turned to me and said, ‘Just do what I’m telling you to do. I don’t pay you to think. I pay you to work.’” He added, “What do you think about that?” I told him it sounded like the plant manager was having a bad day.

Well, maybe so. It’s also clear that this plant manager didn’t hold strongly to the belief that his line workers, more than anyone else in the plant, knew how to improve work processes on the line. If he did believe this, he wouldn’t have said “I don’t pay you to think” to the worker. One thing we know for sure and that is that line workers, given the opportunity, will become active and enthusiastic contributors to the improvement of work processes. Often, they are not given this opportunity.

I wish this story about the plant manager who said, “I don’t pay you to think,” represented behavior this was highly atypical. It doesn’t. I’ve seen variations of this highly destructive behavior in a lot of organizations. And when I see it, I say to myself, how sad it is that these leaders don’t recognize how exceptionally counterproductive their behavior is.

Just how counterproductive are these behaviors? Here’s another finding from the Gallup study.

Those organizations that scored in the top half of employee engagement had double the success rates in their markets compared to those in the bottom half. And those organizations at the 99th percentile of employee engagement had four times the success rate.

The evidence is very clear and indisputable. Doing what it takes to drive higher and higher levels of employee engagement needs to be a very high priority item for any organization’s leadership team.

And here’s another fact that’s clear and indisputable: Like no other system, Lean thinking and Lean work processes drive high levels of employee engagement. Lean processes like 5S, Lean tools like the Idea Board, and many others, enable any organization that uses them effectively to really mine the creativity and knowledge of workers at all levels and, as result, become winners in their marketplaces.

I’d like to talk with you about how to drive higher and higher levels of employee engagement in your company. You can reach me anytime at 314-303-0612. Let’s talk.

Gallup Study – Engagement at Work: Its Effect on Performance Continues in Tough Economic Times

“Gallup research conducted in 2012 makes clear that employee engagement strongly relates to key organizational outcomes in any economic climate. And even during difficult economic times, employee engagement is an important competitive differentiator for organizations.”

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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